The Next Stage in the Fight Against Islamism: M. Zuhdi Jasser on the Newly-Formed CLARITy Coalition

Zuhdi (third from right) with his Muslim Reform Movement colleagues.

Published 8/1/2022

In an exciting development, a new coalition of ex-Muslims, Muslim reformers, activists, and writers dedicated to combatting Islamic extremists worldwide has been formed with the help of AHA Foundation and many others. The CLARITy (Champions for Liberty Against the Reality of Islamist Tyranny) Coalition grew out of AHA Foundation’s webinars last December and meetings in 2019 before the pandemic and AHA’s founder, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, is one of its founding members.

In this blog, M. Zuhdi Jasser, another of CLARITy’s founders, discusses how it came about, how it intends to push back against the dangerous ideology of Islamism, how you can get involved, and more.

*The opinions in this blog don’t necessarily reflect those of AHA Foundation*


AHA Foundation: Thank you for taking the time to talk to us about this important new project, Zuhdi. Firstly, could you tell us a little about your background?

Zuhdi Jasser: I was raised a devout Muslim in a small, conservative Wisconsin town, in what I view as the rather orthodox practice of Sunni Islam. I studied at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. I then received a military scholarship for my medical school education at the Medical College of Wisconsin and subsequently served in the U.S. Navy for 11 years.

I was blessed to have had grandparents and parents who were educated and who included respected jurists, thought leaders, and experts in scriptural interpretation. I discuss that upbringing and my father’s interpretation and translation of the Qur’an in my book A Battle For The Soul Of Islam: An American Muslim Patriot’s Fight to Save His Faith. Inspired by this upbringing, and seeing the need for Islamic reform, I founded the American Islamic Forum for Democracy and co-founded the Muslim Reform Movement. 

AHA Foundation: Tell us more about your views on Muslim reform.

Zuhdi Jasser: Certainly, the predominant interpretation of Islam that exists in major Islamic institutions is in dire need of reform. Many Muslims get too mired down in the semantic debates of whether it is Muslims who need reform or the religion of Islam that needs reform. They then end up paralyzed by the irrelevant question of whether God’s faith as practiced in its purest form would ever need reform.

At this point, the only thing on the table is a massive debate over human interpretations of what Muslims believe is or is not God’s religion. Even as Muslims may agree that the Qur’an is God’s word in Arabic, its interpretation and translation into daily life are all that matter for human beings who identify as Muslims. 

Muslims cannot deny that Islam is the preponderance of the interpretations and contextualizations of Qur’anic scripture and the hadith (the reported sayings of the prophet Mohammed) as interpreted by the major leading global Islamic institutions from Pakistan and Afghanistan to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Europe, and the United States. Islam is the preponderance of the interpretations of Islam seen in the textbooks on the shelves of those mosques and Muslim homes across the country and across the world. And it is clear that there are virtually no palpable interpretations of Islamic law that are compatible with modernity, post-Enlightenment Western thought, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

It is obvious to me as an American and as a Muslim looking at the Muslim world that our faith needs serious, structural change. Abusing women, killing gays, punishing dissent—practices like this are not fit for the 21st century. The primary cancer in the Muslim consciousness is the Islamist idea that Islam is the solution to everything, that the religion dictates how everything in society, politics, the economy, and more should be run. 

By prizing theological purity above reason and humanitarianism, the Muslim world sets itself on a course of destruction.

This lets religious fanaticism run wild: this is why we see jihadist violence and the shariah legal system being used as a repressive instrument in Islamic states. By prizing theological purity above reason and humanitarianism, the Muslim world sets itself on a course of destruction. You can see this in Muslim majority countries across the planet.

Ultimately, I do believe that it’s possible to adhere to the Arabic text of the Qur’an and, at the same time, be inspired by a smattering of modern interpretations of that text that can provide interpretations of Islam that are compatible with modernity. I have long been an activist, and this is the most challenging task I have ever faced, but I believe it can be accomplished

And there are many other scholars, thinkers, and activists who inspire me every step of the way. They are the ones doing the heavy lifting of reading Islamic scripture through the lens of secular liberal democracy. To name but a few: Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im, Fatema Mernissi, Mustafa Akyol, and Muhammad Sa`id al- Ashmawy.

AHA Foundation: How does CLARITy fit into all of this?

Zuhdi Jasser: For many years since 9/11 the world has begun to understand that Islamist terrorism is only a symptom of a deeper ideological and existential threat to the West’s existence and to our way of life in free societies—Islamism. The root cause of terrorism is Islamism, or political Islam, which comes from the idea of the ‘Islamic state’ where the religion has the answers to every issue when it comes to running society. It is not far from this idea, of Islam being the total solution, to jihadist violence, where Islamist rule must be imposed on others.

To combat this dangerous ideology, various thought leaders, think tanks, politicians, and activists in the West have been laser-focused on countering both the civilizational and military permutations of jihad and all of its upstream and downstream manifestations. This group has long been a very diverse and disparate group. 

In 2015 a group of us in the Muslim community across the West doing this work came together and formed the Muslim Reform Movement and united under a declaration that became our line in the sand, our proverbial firewall against Islamists and their ideological fervor. We see the CLARITy Coalition as a broader coalition, an expansion of the Muslim Reform Movement, now including our allies outside the Muslim community, those of many faiths or no faith at all, who realize and recognize the threat of Islamism and believe that the advancement of liberty and freedom is the only way to counter Islamists.

Visit CLARITy’s Website

AHA Foundation: Why did you and your fellow founders of the coalition think that CLARITy was necessary?

Zuhdi Jasser: For a long time, the Islamists globally have been funded by the trillions that come out of the Islamic Gulf state petro-economies. Up until really just a few years ago in 2017, most of the Arab petro-monarchs were all in with most of the global populist Islamist movements. This created an entrenched massive overrepresentation of Islamists in media, government, academia and in cultural fronts.

As if that wasn’t enough, in the last 50 years the Islamists have been bolstered by the “Red-Green Axis” which is comprised of a combination of forces in which the Islamists (Greens) work hand in glove with the progressives and socialists (Reds). We see this bearing fruit for the Islamists at the UN and also in the halls of Congress.

The intent of CLARITy is to join forces and work together with a common mission and goal to not only counter Islamism but also to promote and advance liberty and freedom.

The anti-Islamists have never had any type of similar unity to counter this potent global force. The intent of CLARITy is to join forces and work together with a common mission and goal to not only counter Islamism but also to promote and advance liberty and freedom to create and protect our systems of government and law and culture so as to inoculate us against Islamist and Red-Green Axis threats.

AHA Foundation: Why is now a good time to launch this project?

Zuhdi Jasser: Time is running out. The Islamists are patient and gaining allies. Some of the countries in Europe such as France and Austria are beginning to have some national pushback against Islamists from diverse coalitions but this is only just the beginning.

We continue to see, especially post-pandemic, the growing synergy of the Red-Green Axis. This synergy created a large enough coalition between the Left and Islamists that they have been able to effectively completely blind the West from the threats that Islamists and their programs pose to our way of life on all fronts. It’s long overdue that anti-Islamists of all stripes, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, unite to form an opposing force against Islamism in order to expose the reality of its theocratic, undemocratic, tyrannical, and anti-Western aims.

The CLARITy Coalition will position itself in a diverse space in the West on a broad array of platforms that can facilitate the cooperation of anti-Islamist, anti-jihadist, and pro-liberty activists, think tanks, and thought leaders. It is long overdue that all of the groups working toward the common good of advancing the ideas of freedom against the threat of Islamist and jihadist tyranny find ways to work together in a common diverse coalition.

Ayaan addressing the Coalescing Networks to Combat Islamist Ideologies Seminar in 2019.

AHA Foundation: In 2019, at a seminar for the Coalescing Networks to Combat Islamist Ideologies project, our founder Ayaan Hirsi Ali said that she believed “that more and more Muslims are open to reconciling their faith with modernity” and that this represented “an opportunity we in this room need to recognize and seize.” Similarly, CLARITy suggests an optimism on the part of its founders; do you agree? If yes, what is this optimism rooted in?

Zuhdi Jasser: I believe that this optimism is very well-founded and rooted in the fact that all of us anti-Islamists are far preferable in our outlook to the Islamists. We stand up for Western values as embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And especially ever since the Arab Spring of 2011 and the growth in the West of Muslim reform and ex-Muslim movements, the Islamists are facing more and more pushback. On an equal playing field, Islamists always lose the debate to pro-liberty advocates; they are exposed as the theocratic tyrants they really are.

Combatting Islamism is like treating cancer: the patient will often get worse before they get better. But the treatment of cancer is rooted in hope and, similarly, anti-Islamism is animated by optimism in the capacity of our fellow humans to free themselves from the shackles of theocracy.

But in addition to optimism, we must also be realistic and pragmatic. The fact is that the numbers do not lie. Muslims who subscribe to Islamist ideals to lesser and greater extents are clearly a plurality of Muslims across the planet. It is also very clear that when it comes to most of the religious leadership establishment in the mosques, Muslim governments of Muslim majority nations, and Muslim institutions, they are dyed in the wool Islamists. Clearly, we Muslims have an existential problem with regard to modernity and we need reform against the leadership establishment of our faith that persists in promulgating the ideas of political Islam and anti-Westernism. 

Combatting Islamism is like treating cancer: the patient will often get worse before they get better. But the treatment of cancer is rooted in hope and, similarly, anti-Islamism is animated by optimism in the capacity of our fellow humans to free themselves from the shackles of theocracy.

History has repeatedly shown us that whether through the Western Enlightenment and its subsequent revolutions, theocrats always lose to the advocates of liberty. We should not forget how hard fought that battle was and how grim the outlook must have seemed to those who opposed the powerful tyranny of pre-Enlightenment Christianity. Yet in the end, the Enlightenment won out

America was founded as a repudiation of theocracy. It was founded as a secular nation where those of all faiths and none could be free to lead their lives as they saw fit. It faced terrible odds to achieve this, but it succeeded. This should give us hope. The best leaders and coalition builders are those who are students of history. 

Our CLARITy Coalition similarly should be optimistic because the Red-Green Axis has repeatedly revealed that when it is in power, it quickly alienates the vast majority of a nation’s citizens. This alienation seems to drive a rebirth of national identity that hopefully and patriotically celebrates freedom, liberty, and democracy. Some nations have shown, however, that we need to also be on guard so that the pendulum doesn’t swing too far the other way from the Islamist/socialist extreme to a hyper-nationalistic quasi-fascist extreme. 

The only way to effectively counter Islamists and extreme socialists is for us to ultimately form a broad-based coalition of the rest of the “reasonable” citizens of the West. The CLARITy Coalition is poised to plant the seeds for this alternative. 

AHA Foundation: What is CLARITy’s plan in the immediate future?

Zuhdi Jasser: Standby. The founding members have all been working hard and meeting frequently as we prepare for our official launch. The first step will obviously be to let the world know about our existence and the diversity of the combined platforms that we bring to this space. We will then move to define our combined space and immediately put the Islamists and their Red-Green Axis on notice that the CLARITy Coalition will be working tirelessly to not only protect the West in advancing freedom and liberty but to defeat Islamism. We will be warning our enemies that we are going on the offense.

Obviously, the coalition will evolve. But we do hope and pray that the West sees this coalition as a valuable resource and that others who understand the threat of political Islam and the need to protect Western values, whether they come from the media, politics, think tanks, universities, faith-based organizations, or anywhere else, will join us in our mission. 

AHA Foundation: What are CLARITy’s long-term plans, challenges and needs?

Zuhdi Jasser: For too long the anti-Islamists in the world have been on the defense against well-funded, powerful Islamists.

So, long term, CLARITy will begin to develop offensive strategies both in the West and globally on the front lines in government, culture, academia, media, and interfaith work in which the ideas of liberty and Western secular liberal democracy are advanced, in which the agents of political Islam from the Muslim Brotherhood to the Khomeinists are weakened, exposed, and defeated. 

I see a time in which it becomes commonplace that any time Islamists are featured in media, many of us from CLARITy will also be seated at the table. I see a time in which governments are no longer simply fighting some generic incomprehensible “extremism” but actually declaring that they are actually strategically countering Islamism.

AHA Foundation: What are your highest hopes for CLARITy?

Zuhdi Jasser: Our greatest hope is that the CLARITy brand becomes a symbol of diverse cooperation across many partisan and cultural divides in pursuit of a common mission. After all, nations can only survive if there is a common ideology that unites us. I hope that CLARITy becomes defined by that coalition from left to right that understands that a society that cannot define itself by the rights it accords to all its citizens is a society that is doomed.

I hope that media platforms, academic institutions, governments, and civil society in general recognize CLARITy as a leading force in our societies in the West and then ultimately globally against Islamism and all of its protean sympathizers.

It is not just up to [CLARITy] to win this battle. It is up to everyone. You can play an essential role in helping us. 

AHA Foundation: Finally, is there anything else you would like to add? And thanks again for taking the time!

Zuhdi Jasser: My only additional comment and hope and prayer is that these coalitions as they evolve show people in the West and beyond that not only are anti-Islamist Muslim reformers needed at the head of their collective spear but that their Muslim colleagues, compatriots, and fellow citizens are not merely appendages in this battle, but a necessary and central and valued part of their societies. We must not only talk the talk but walk the walk of equality in our perceptions of each citizen equally, whether they are Muslims or not.

I would also add that it is not just up to us to win this battle. It is up to everyone. You can play an essential role in helping us by sharing this blog, our website, and amplifying the voices of our members. Stay tuned for more opportunities to come if you want to stand with us against Islamism.


 

Visit CLARITy’s Website

Zuhdi’s Book: A Battle for the Soul of Islam: An American Patriot’s Fight to Save His Faith

Read More: The Declaration of the Muslim Reform Movement

Read More: Zuhdi’s Newsweek Article on the “Red-Green Axis”

Watch: Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s 2019 Statement to Coalescing Networks to Combat Islamist Ideologies Seminar

Follow Zuhdi on Twitter

Read More: Read Our Blog With Soraya Deen, Another Founding Member of CLARITy

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